Thursday, October 4, 2012

North Dakota Smackdown: "Minot, North Dakota" (2008)



Filmmakers Angelika Brudniak and Cynthia Madansky came to Minot, North Dakota one day and decided to do a hit job on the town.

This twenty minute or so film fills the screen with moody driving shots of a few trashy-looking areas around Minot, as well as some reluctant footage to suggest people actually live here. Over the world's worst soundtrack (musician Zeena Parkins has seen way too many David Lynch films), unnamed voices of people who live here or work at the Air Force base can be heard bitching about the supposed paranoia that grips the town thanks to the nuclear missile silos that dot the area, and the constant surveillance used to monitor their safety.

For the record, I live in Minot, North Dakota. I could spend tons of space talking about the good things about Minot and defending the town (we got the State Fair! Josh Duhamel is from here!), but instead I will address some of the errors the subjects spout. North Dakota living isn't for the faint of heart. Yes, it gets cold up here. Damn cold. The city was named after a railroad executive and it is pronounced "my knot," as opposed to "minnow," which I have heard before. The first two interviewees have no clue why the town was named, why it exists, and one thinks the "support our troops" campaign is stupid. Apparently, the town only lasts because of the Air Force base (making me wonder what Minotians did their first seventy years of existence before the base was built). One kid spouts that no one teaches "nuclear stuff" in school, and a girl's eighth grade teacher, proving to be the exception and not the rule, supported the capture of Saddam Hussein "or whatever." A military member's wife doesn't think about what her husband does, another voice (or the same; no one is identified onscreen) talks about "complicity" (for nuclear holocaust?) for being married to someone who works with the weapons.

I am looking out my window at two different street lights. According to one voice, every street light in Minot has a camera on it, and the police are watching us- they should use these imaginary cameras to close the file on our unsolved murder that occurred here a few years ago. Some dork jumps on a trampoline while a young man tells a story about how he and some friends were goofing off and yelling "Hail, Satan" near a public park, and being loud enough that it got the police called. His story, like all the narration, is fractured, badly recorded, and pointless (you were being obnoxious in public...so?). One of my favorites is the starved-for-attention girl who wears black, listens to Marilyn Manson (still?), and after the "supposed terrorist attacks on 9/11" talks about how the 1-800 anti-terrorist number was plastered all over Minot- I must have missed those posters. She was sure she was going to be turned in.

If Brudniak and Madansky were trying to paint a picture of a town gripped in fear, they did well. The footage of Minot is enhanced to show what looks like a (nuclear?) mist over the city. We cower in our houses as B-52s and helicopters fly overhead...actually, B-52s overhead are extremely rare, and the helicopter looked like the one belonging to our hospital, but whatever. We are rotting our insides by living on top of missile silos, which we don't. The fact of the matter is 99% of what is presented in this "documentary" is not true. Two film makers wanted to make an anti-nuclear statement, picked a town to trash, and went about their business. There is a simple answer for those who don't like Minot, or any town anywhere- MOVE AWAY! In the Air Force? You'll get reassigned, or just don't reenlist. No one here waits to please you. Go to Minneapolis like many a North Dakotan (who then bitch about the crime, size, living expense, and inability to stand out and be different).

Finally, North Dakota has a tongue in cheek saying, one I have heard since I moved to Grand Forks in the early 1980's: "Forty below keeps the riff-raff out." Low crime, good schools, clean air, plenty of outdoor activities, the saying is a celebration of our staying up here despite possible air and wind chill temperatures of forty below zero Fahrenheit and out-migration problems (which have reversed a bit since the oil boom and our state being one of the only ones in the nation with a budget surplus). To live in North Dakota, you must take the bad with the great. One interviewed subject first gets the quote wrong, then takes it to mean the cold keeps out all the minorities who don't fit into the German/Scandinavian white ideal that permeates the region (apparently forgetting about retired minority military members, and the Native Americans). Ironic that one of the film makers who included this bit of stupidity is from Austria, the country that gave us Adolf Hitler. What? Did I just smear the good people of Austria over the actions of a few? No, just doing to Austria what Angelika Brudniak and Cynthia Madansky did to the roughly 45,000 people in the Minot/Minot Air Force Base area through this film. Obviously, forty below didn't keep them out.

Two days ago, some yahoo protester (from out of state) jumped a missile silo fence and prompted a hell of a response from our military. This happens once in a while, just so the film makers know. You can catch this short film on the Sundance Channel (shocker), but keep in mind there are two sides to every story...or am I being coerced into saying that? (*) out of five stars.